Thursday, May 11, 2006

Engineering and Jewellery

Mr Stevens worked all his life as a lift and motor engineer, machining new bearings, trouble-shooting malfunctioning lifts. He lived in Essex and worked in London.
'I've always been a bit wary of electricity,' I say. 'It's one thing that I'll always leave for the professionals.'
'It's like anything else. As long as you're careful,' he says, making a shaky little adjustment to the bridge of his glasses.
'I'd be forever worried that I'd get a shock.'
'Well, yes, Spence, that is something you have to watch out for.'
'Ever had one?'
He places the glasses back on his nose and looks at me. 'It's unavoidable.'

He tells me that Hatton Garden was an engineering and jewellery district just before the war. There was a lot of precision work done on machines in small rooms and back gardens. His job as a lift engineer was a reserved occupation; he helped out the Home Office with motor orders that needed to be done as quickly as possible. It was quantity not quality. Always lots to do.

When his wife died Mr Stevens carried on where he was for twelve years until his failing health and advancing age encouraged him to move nearer to his only daughter. She wanted to be able to see him every day. Now she does that, along with his shopping. He manages a walk to the local supermarket for any extras, and can just about make it to the pharmacy on his own.

He shows me his wedding ring, a plain band.
'You should've seen the way rings were made back then. By hand. Now they're all machined, just pressed out in one motion, rounded and sized in another.'
Then he folds his hands back together in his lap, and stares out at the scenery rushing by.

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